The USNS Wheeling belonged to the Watertown-class of missile range instrumentation ships. She undertook these duties starting in 1963 under the tutelage of the US Navy. However, she initially started her service in April 1945 as a Victory ship, launched by the Oregon Shipbuilding Corp. Between 1945 and 1957 the USNS Wheeling operated for the US Maritime Commission under a number of civilian contractors, starting with the Olympic Steamship Line and ending with Pope & Talbot. During the following five years, she was berthed on James River in order to be retrofitted as a missile tracking ship in 1962 and named Wheeling. She was struck from the Navy registry in 1990.
Asbestos was found in all the compartments of this ship. Used for heat and water shielding, this was a great insulator. However, it was toxic for the crewmen. Those working in the engine rooms, damage control room, pump room, and propulsion room, as well as radar technicians, were exposed to the largest quantities of asbestos. This is a known carcinogen that can cause severe conditions such as asbestosis or mesothelioma.